Refugee law in Turkey is perhaps unlike the asylum systems that most people are familiar with. As an attorney working on the asylum process here in Turkey, I have to first explain to our clients that Turkey has a two prong asylum system: one with the Turkish government and one with the UNHCR. For the Turkish asylum process, most recognized refugees will never be granted Turkish citizenship, a right only granted to refugees originating from countries that are a member state of the Council of Europe. Instead, they are granted international protection. Still, this legal status grants an individual the right to go to school, work, and live in Turkey.
There is also a parallel UNHCR process, wherein the recognized refugee has a chance to be resettled in a third country and eventually gaining citizenship in that country. Historically, the largest resettlement countries have been the United States, Canada, and Australia. The chances of resettlement were always very slim: globally, less than 1% of refugees registered with the UNHCR will ever be resettled. But because of the current politics within the United States the current temporary ban on refugee resettlement, this slim chance at resettlement is currently even slimmer still.
In both processes, an asylum-seeker must show that they have a fear of being persecuted in their home countries because of their race, religion, political opinion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group, and that they cannot seek protection within their home country. Once an asylum-seeker registers with the Turkish authorities, he or she is then placed in a satellite city within Turkey, and they are not allowed to leave this province without explicit authorization from the Director General for Migration Management in Turkey.
In my role as a Legal Fellow working for a Turkish legal NGO, I assist clients who have been rejected on the first instance as a refugee with the UNHCR. And because it is not easy for them to travel to our office in Istanbul, we communicate via telephone to discuss the reasons they have been rejected and to go over in-depth their fears and reasons why they cannot return to their home countries. Many of our clients are Iranian nationals, in part because they are rejected at higher rates than other nationalities with overt conflicts. And because I am fluent in Farsi, I primarily communicate with our clients directly without an interpreter, which makes for a more meaningful and substantial conversation. After understanding their fears and concerns, I work with them to help prepare an appeal to be filed with the UNHCR.
All of this has created an amazing experience of me, where I feel very connected to our client base and also have developed a deep understanding of international refugee law and the specifics of the process at the UNHCR. I feel that I have been able to make an impact in my short time here, and am eager to continue working so that I can give our clients a fair chance at advocating for themselves and their right to live in a place where they feel safe.
Blossom Hill Foundation
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